Legislative Update: Lifting the Cap on Kids and Banning Conversion Therapy

On Wednesday, March 13th 2019, the Massachusetts State House of Representatives passed legislation to ban conversion therapy on minors and legislation to expand access to public assistance for families. Both bills were priorities of mine this session (and past sessions) and I am excited vote for them to pass the House. More information about each can be found below.


Lifting the Cap on Kids

H. 104 – An Act to lift the cap on kids

  • This bill repeals a 1990’s punitive welfare reform that did not allow a family to receive additional welfare benefits for children born after the family started to receive benefits.
  • The current law means that parents have to split meager benefits meant for one child between two children. Parents typically receive $100 per month per child.
  • The bill directs that the Department of Transitional Assistance, which oversees the program, to implement the changes by 9/1/19 with aid retroactive to 1/1/2019.

Banning Conversion Therapy

H. 140 – An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation

  • Prohibits health care providers from advertising for or engaging in efforts that attempt or purport to impose change on the sexual orientation or gender identity of a patient less than 18 years of age.
  • The controversial conversion therapy that this legislation would ban has been used to try to “convert” someone who is LGBTQ to being heterosexual, treating a person’s sexuality as an illness rather than a part of who they are.

Seniors blast state for ‘failing elders’

By Katie Lannan / State House News ServicePosted Mar 13, 2019 at 2:01 AM  

BOSTON – Gathering in the State House Monday, dozens of senior advocates chanted to state legislators: “Massachusetts can do better.”

Kathy Paul, president of the North Shore chapter of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, led the chant, encouraging advocates to keep pressure on their lawmakers.

“We will not stop until we see the senior health care gap close,” Paul said at a lobby day hosted by senior and home care groups. “We will not stop until every senior can afford food. We will not stop until housing and health care is a right, because Massachusetts can do better.”

Paul and other speakers at the event urged seniors and caregivers to share their stories and make sure their issues remain top-of-mind for the lawmakers who will build next year’s state budget and consider the many priority bills filed by supportive members this year.

“This system is broken, and it is failing our elders, and it is time to change that,” said Sarah Blakeney of the Senior Action Council. “I stand here before you, at the age of 91, to say, we should take a stand.”

According to statistics presented by advocacy groups, one in 10 adults age 60 and over in Massachusetts receive food assistance benefits, more than 844,000 Bay Staters are caring for aging parents or loved ones, and the average Social Security benefit for a family of adults 65-years-old or older is about $16,791 per year.

At 1.4 million, adults 60 and older make up 21 percent of the state’s population.

The event was organized by several groups, including the Senior Action Council, the AARP of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Councils on Aging, Mass. Home Care, the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts and the Home Care Aide Council. Advocates highlighted legislation addressing access to health care for seniors, support for family caregivers and home care workers, and housing affordability.

Mattie Lacewell of the Senior Action Council’s Springfield chapter said caring for an ailing loved one can take a toll. An 82-year-old who described herself as a “fairly healthy old lady,” Lacewell said her sister-in-law suffers from Alzheimer’s and her brother, who had been his wife’s primary caregiver, is now in declining health.

Lacewell said her brother has had to fill out an “overwhelming” number of forms, but has not been able to get MassHealth coverage for his wife. Applying for food assistance has also “been tough,” she said.

“It’s like you’re going around in a circle. What I hope for is that the application process could be a little more simplified, because it’s frustrating, it really, really is,” Lacewell said. “When we see our representatives today, we’re going to tell them — we’re not going to ask them anymore, we’re going to tell them — that we need a better system. We want to end the struggle of applying for the help that we’re entitled to.”

Bills filed by Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Jay Livingstone (S 678, H 1173) would create a common application for benefits, including MassHealth and the supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP), or food stamps. According to the Law Reform Institute, allowing simultaneous applications for MassHealth and SNAP would increase food access for more than 100,000 elders in Massachusetts.

Lacewell called it “atrocious” that someone on a fixed income might need to choose between paying for groceries and medication.

Gov. Charlie Baker, in his fiscal 2020 budget, proposed expanding eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, which help seniors pay for Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Baker’s proposal would increase the income limits for different tiers of the program — currently ranging from 100 percent to 135 percent of the federal poverty level — to 130 percent to 165 percent of the federal poverty level.

Advocates on Monday voiced support for that plan, but also called for the passage of bills (S 640, H 615) that would expand Medicare Savings Program eligibility to 300 percent of the poverty level.

Other bills backed by the groups include one that would require Massachusetts Senior Care Options plans to provide consultations with experts when members are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias (H 614, S 367), and another to establish a tax credit for family caregivers (H 2608, S 702).

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a 75-year-old Somerville Democrat who chairs the Elder Affairs Committee with Newton Rep. Ruth Balser, told the senior advocates that they are “helping to change the image of old people.”

“I think you’re changing the image of us as being victims, of people who need help — we all need help, but as people who are problem solvers as well,” she said.

https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20190313/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-elders

https://www.heraldnews.com/news/20190313/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-elders

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20190311/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-our-elders

https://somerville.wickedlocal.com/news/20190312/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-our-elders

Legislative Update: Supplemental Budget

Legislative Update

H.3505 – An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2019 to provide for supplementing certain existing appropriations and for certain other activities and projects

On Wednesday, February 28th 2019, the Massachusetts State House of Representatives passed H.3505, a $135 Million supplemental budget. I joined my colleagues in voting affirmatively to pass the measure. The supplemental budget addresses multiple areas including heating assistance, enhanced support for victims of sexual assault, and programs to help those experiencing homelessness. Below are some highlights of what the bill included.


Increased funding for Low Income Heating Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)

Amount: $30 million (+$19 million from Governor’s proposal)

Details: This program ensures that all families in the Commonwealth can afford to keep their heating on through the winter. The additional funding makes up for the Federal funding shortfall.


Increased funding for Emergency Shelter Assistance for people and families experiencing homelessness

Amount: $10,046,612 (level with the Governor’s proposal)

Details: This program helps individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness by increasing the amount of shelter beds to help accommodate the needs of the State.


Increased funding for sexual assault evidence testing kits

Amount: $8,000,000

Details: This program will aid in addressing the backlog of sexual assault kits in the State and ensure that we are on the right path towards bringing justice for victims of sexual violence.


Increased funding for the costs associated with an independent statewide examination of the safety of gas distribution infrastructure

Amount: $1,482,694

Details: These funds will go toward addressing the safety hazard of poorly maintained pipelines. After the disaster that took place in the Merrimack Valley in September, the State is incentivized to take a good look at what can be done to prevent another emergency.


Authorization of Collective Bargaining Agreements

Amount: n/a

Details: The Supplemental Budget included authorization for collective bargaining agreements previously made between employers and trade unions for the following organizations/departments:

  • Massachusetts Department of Transportation and DOT Unit A – National Association of Government Employees, Clerical and Administrative Workers
  • University of Massachusetts and the New England Police Benevolent Protection Organization, Amherst Campus, Unit A07
  • University of Massachusetts and the Maintenance and Trades Unit/MTA/NEA, Lowell Campus, Unit L93
  • University of Massachusetts and Classified and Technical Union, Lowell Campus, Unit L92
  • Sheriff of Bristol County and the National Association of Government Employees, Maintenance Workers, Unit C
  • Sheriff of Worcester county and the New England Police Benevolent Association, Local 550, Unit SW6
  • Sheriff of Hampden County and the National Correctional Employees Union Mental Health Staff Unit, Local 131, Unit SH1

Should ‘lifers’ get a chance for parole?

Bill would make those serving life sentences eligible for hearings after 25 years

 SARAH BETANCOURT Feb 28, 2019

SOME BEACON HILL LAWMAKERS are making another push for legislation that would allow the 1,050 Massachusetts inmates serving life prison sentences to be eligible for parole hearings.

Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston and Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop have filed legislation that would allow all those serving life sentences – most of whom are in prison for murder – to be eligible for a parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration.

Livingstone on Thursday participated in a panel discussion on the issue before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Caucus; joining him were Marc Mauer, who leads the Washington, DC-based Sentencing Project, and Donald Perry, a former inmate who served over 18 years in prison.

Mauer, one of the country’s leading experts on sentencing policy, said a record number of 206,000 people are serving life terms in prisons across the US. “Life without parole is not an alternative for the death penalty. It’s an alternative for life with parole,” he said.

The only other way an inmate serving a life sentence can get out of prison is to have his or her sentence commuted, but no governor has commuted a life sentence in Massachusetts since 1997, according to data from the Governor’s Council.

A 2016 Department of Correction annual report shows that $50,000 a year is spent on housing an inmate, with sick and elderly inmates costing up to three times as much. Mauer said older and sicker offenders in their 70s pose a diminished public safety risk and should be released and reintegrated into society to save on these costs.

A number of states are considering proposals to reduce their prison populations. In Missouri, bills have been filed that would grant a parole hearing after no more than 30 years in prison for lifers, and allow early parole for certain offenders over 65 in geriatric units. Both were proposed by Republican legislators.

“President Obama, in his last two years, issued 1,700 sentence commutations,” said Mauer. About a third of those who received commutations had been sentenced to life in prison, often as a result of the “three-strikes” laws mandating life imprisonment for some third-offense drug cases.

Perry received the maximum penalty for armed robbery in 1983, and was on parole for 14 years following nearly two decades behind bars. He now works on criminal justice reform and is a co-founder of Black Behavioral Health Network, which addresses a gap in health services for African-Americans who face incarceration.

Perry said some lifers were classified by the Department of Correction in the 1970s as no longer a threat to society, and could go out on weekends to teach at local universities. “That doesn’t exist now,” he said.Meet the Author

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who attended the State House event, said afterwards that she is in the “information gathering phase” when it comes to the bill to establish parole for those convicted of first-degree murder. “None of us would ever want to be defined by the worst acts of our lives. And then you have to think about that victims’ families are suffering,” she said.

“Our goal is the protection of the public’s safety,” Ryan said, but added that it’s worth assessing “when or if a person is ready to come back out into society.”

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu delivers petition opposing MBTA fare increases

By Web 2019/02/28 Announcements

BOSTON – Tonight, Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu presented representatives from the MBTA with a 2,700-signature petition opposing the MBTA’s proposed 6% fare increase and urging immediate steps toward transit equity and access.

“The proposed 6% fare hike would place an undue burden on residents already struggling to meet transportation-related costs, totaling an unaffordable 41% increase in MBTA fares since 2012,” reads the petition. “The increased costs would push more commuters to drive, undercutting our most urgent goal of increasing transit ridership to ease congestion, limit air pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

A coalition of local elected officials joined Councilor Wu’s opposition to the fare hike by signing on to her petition, including Boston City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Boston City Council President, District 4, Michael Flaherty, At-Large, Annissa Essabai-George, At-Large, Althea Garrison, At-Large, Lydia Edwards, District 1, Ed Flynn, District 2, Tim McCarthy, District 5, Matt O’Malley, District 6, Kim Janey, District 7, Josh Zakim, District 8, and Mark Ciommo, District 9; State Senators Sonia Chang-Díaz, Second Suffolk and Sal DiDomenico, Middlesex and Suffolk; State Representatives Adrian Madaro, 1st Suffolk, Jay Livingston, 8th Suffolk, Nika Elugardo, 15 Suffolk, Liz Miranda, 5th Suffolk, Andy Vargas, 3rd Essex, Mike Connolly, 26th Middlesex, Tommy Vitolo, 15th Norfolk, Maria Robinson, 6th Middlesex, Tram Nguyen, 18th Essex, Tami Gouveia, 14th Middlesex, and Cambridge Vice Mayor Jan Devereux.

Also joining Wu as co-sponsors of the petition were a number of grassroots organizations, including Boston Clean Energy Coalition, Boston Climate Action Network, Boston Cyclists Union Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition, Greater Boston Young Democrats, Green Streets Initiative, LivableStreets Alliance, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Progressives Massachusetts, Sustainable Sudbury, Tufts SPINES, WalkUP Roslindale, West Roxbury Saves Energy, and 350 Massachusetts.

“Tonight, we delivered a mandate to the MBTA on behalf of over 2,700 residents. Riders of every T line, from every neighborhood in Boston and others across Massachusetts, stood together urging transit equity and access, not fare increases,” said Councilor Wu. “This moment in history demands aggressive action against the threats of income inequality and climate change. Sustainable, affordable, reliable public transit is fundamental to providing Boston residents with the greatest access to jobs, schools, and opportunities beyond their home neighborhoods.”

The petition also outlines ways in which the MBTA could remove barriers for public transit to ensure the right of mobility for all, including the creation of free, unlimited, year-round youth and senior passes,committing to a low-income fare, and designating fare-free bus lanes through underserved communities.

The petition goes on to urge the MBTA to take immediate steps towards fare equity. These include a commitment to rejecting distance-based bus and subway fares, which have been shown to be regressive, as more residents are being priced out of housing close to job centers. The petition further calls for a re-zoning of the commuter rail fares so that all of Boston is Zone 1A and no municipality is split between multiple fare zones.

Finally, petition signers asked the MBTA to focus on building a sustainable funding base for public transit by implementing smarter tolling and congestion pricing and supporting increased surcharges for rideshare services, such as Uber and Lyft.

Councilor Wu has long championed a climate and economic justice-centered approach to public transit. She first announced her opposition to the MBTA’s proposed fare hikes in an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe, where she argued that Boston should set fare-free public transportation as the target goal.

The full text of Councilor Wu’s petition can be found below.

Dear Members of the Fiscal Management and Control Board, Secretary Pollack, and Governor Baker:

We oppose the proposal to raise MBTA fares.

The proposed 6% fare hike would place an undue burden on residents already struggling to meet transportation-related costs, totaling an unaffordable 41% increase in MBTA fares since 2012. The increased costs would push more commuters to drive, undercutting our most urgent goal of increasing transit ridership to ease congestion, limit air pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We are running out of time to transform our economy and society in the face of climate change, and the Greater Boston region is now confronted with the worst traffic in the nation.The proposed fare increase represents a step in the wrong direction when we can’t afford anything less than aggressive progress forward.

We urge you to reject the fare increases and instead take steps toward a fare-free transit system to ensure the right of mobility for all:

  • Create a single youth pass with free, unlimited, year-round access to the MBTA. Currently, MBTA options for students and youth passes are needlessly complicated and inconsistent, and are turning the next generation of riders against public transportation.
  • Extend the same free, unlimited, year-round pass to seniors residing in Massachusetts.
  • Provide low-income riders with Charlie Cards and a low-income fare option, distributing these MBTA passes through agencies that administer SNAP and other means-tested benefits.

We also urge the MBTA to take immediate steps for fare equity:

  • Commit to rejecting distance-based bus and subway fares, which have been shown to be regressive, as more residents are being priced out of housing close to job centers.
  • Rezone the commuter rail fares so that all of Boston is Zone 1A and no municipality is split between multiple fare zones.
  • As the MBTA moves toward a cashless fare collection system, reject plans to spend resources on costly fare vending machines at every bus stop and instead designate the bus routes where riders will depend on cash as fare-free routes.

Finally, we ask that you focus on building a sustainable funding base for public transit:

  • Advocate for the Transportation & Climate Initiative.
  • Implement smarter tolling and congestion pricing.
  • Support increased surcharges for TNCs (such as Uber and Lyft) that encourage shared rides.
  • Support legislation to enable regional ballot initiatives that would allow voters to identify and raise revenues for transit priorities.

Transportation planning must not exist in a vacuum, and fare hikes will only continue to exacerbate the inequities and climate and public health challenges facing our city and region. Please take action to strengthen opportunities for generations to come by embracing transit equity and access.

Signed,

####